Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: Bitter Sweet Love by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Bitter Sweet Love (The Dark Elements #0.5) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Release Date: December 1, 2013
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 105
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased by Reviewers
Goodreads • Amazon

Emily's Rating:

Izzy's Rating:

In a sizzling prequel novella to her new series The Dark Elements, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout draws readers into the extraordinary, irresistible world of Wardens and demons.

Dez wasn't just Jasmine's crush. A gargoyle Warden like Jas, he helped her come to terms with her destiny—fending off demons and maintaining balance between good and evil. He was her everything...right until the moment he disappeared without a trace. It didn't help that Jas's father had just announced that she and Dez would one day be mated. Hard not to take that personally.

And now he's back, three years older, ten times hotter, ready to pick up exactly where they left off. But Jas isn't taking that risk again. Dez has seven days to meet all her conditions and earn back her trust. Seven days filled with terrifying danger and sweet temptation. Seven days to win her heart—or shatter it all over again...


Novellas are always interesting endeavors. It's hard to fit a well-developed story with multi-dimensional characters into what's usually half the length or less of a regular novel. It's the nature of the novella to feel a little rushed as a result—either the entire story feels like a surface-level retelling of events, or the end is abrupt and generally unsatisfying. Add to this the fact that the premise of this series—gargoyles—was unorthodox and unimaginable to say the least, and I was a little bit apprehensive. But, in JLA we trust, so I still waited on bated breath for the release.

Really I never should have doubted the master. Serving as a prequel to her new Dark Elements series, Bitter Sweet Love is our introduction to a whole new, fantastic world. The Wardens—a version of gargoyles that combines elements of the classic mythology with a whole lot of new intrigue—and their world will pull you in from the start. They're human hybrids that can take on the form of the iconic stone guardians, tasked with fighting demons and protecting unsuspecting humans around the world. It's an involved, awesome concept rounded out by a rich developed history and way of life.

We're also introduced to their rather bizarre mating ritual, made necessary by their dwindling numbers. Since females are frequently targeted by the demons they hunt, the clanswomen are highly protected and kept in confinement in many ways. It's intense and disconcerting, but its crafted into the story in a way that makes you understand the fear the clans have, if not completely condone it. The scenario doesn't improve once the girls come of age—marriages happen young in an effort to boost population, and once a male Warden has chosen a mate, he makes his intentions clear to the entire clan. The weird part? The girl has no say in this declaration. She's given seven days to either accept or decline, but still, the original uncomfortable feeling is there. It's a whole lotta weird, but you can't help but be fascinated.

These are the circumstances in which our heroine, Jasmine, finds herself. Dez, her childhood friend-turned-crush, has returned after an abrupt departure years before to make his intentions known...for Jasmine. And fiercely independent, rebellious Jasmine is less than amused. But Dez is determined to use his seven days to win her over. What ensues is nothing short of magic.

In the typical way of JLA books, Jasmine is a fantastic heroine. She's struggling with the confines of her community and a heavy destiny, trying to find a balance between obligation to her people and what she wants in her life. She's a fighter—and that includes where Dez is concerned. Jasmine is the kind of girl I want not only read about, but be. Her approach to Dez has a healthy level of skepticism and she does an impressive job of resisting the beyond enticing Warden. The voice with which she navigates the adventure and supremely high tension of their courtship is entertaining as anything, filled with the unique and sharp quips that are JLA's staple.

It's this courtship that really is the star of the show. Jasmine's quest for independence, coupled with Dez's willingness to give it to her—to give her the world, really—is touching and empowering all at the same time. And with the romantic and sexual tension abounding, you'll be hard-pressed not to squeal at all the near misses and sweet moments. I certainly lost the battle more than once.

Bitter Sweet Love is, in my opinion, at the top of the novella game. The story felt complete, with enough depth to the characters and story to make you feel the full effective of the story. I don't know how she does it, but JLA once again brings a winner. It's the perfect setup to the world of White Hot Kiss (even introducing you to its main characters!) and an incredible feat for such a small page count. If you have yet to start the series, you should absolutely do so. And if you have but skipped over this prequel, I highly recommend going back to the beginning. This is the beginning of and sets the stage for what has been one of my absolute favorites series this year.

If you're a fan of the young adult genre, this is definitely a winner. JLA is one of the best authors out there, and if you haven't already become acquainted with her awesomeness, I honestly have no idea what you're doing. Seriously, pick this one up!


When series have a prequel novella, I get super excited. I just do. I love the fact there is an expansion of the author's universe; and I find that I am greedy when it comes to extended universe material. I basically hoard this information like a dragon. Let that image sink in: a manic gleam in my eye (maybe even a slight twitch) as I clutch novellas, sneak peaks, and excerpts to my chest. Smaug's got the general idea:

And this photo of Benedict just cracks me up:

But I digress, this is about JLA and her infinite awesomeness! Bitter Sweet Love is a wonderful introduction to her Dark Elements series. It does a fantastic job encapsulating Warden culture in a succinct manner. In my opinion, Bitter Sweet Love augments the series (granted, there is only one out...but I await October with baited breath).

If I hadn't read Bitter Sweet Love first, I probably would have thought all Wardens were immense douchebags. But reading a short story from their perspective, it is easier to sympathize with them. They seem less stoic and stick-up-their-@$%y. And it familiarizes you with the sad truth that they are a dying race.

So while their mating ritual is a little...disconcerting, it is understandable. Females are few in number and aggressively protected. But our heroine is having none of that!

Also, I kind of love Jasmine. JLA has an incredible talent when it comes to constructing her narrating characters (and writing in general).

Here's a short summary:

Jasmine is doing her own thing, sneaking out and asserting her independence, when her childhood friend-crush returns after three years. He claims her. She revolts. He has seven days to win back her trust.

Short. Sweet. Simple.

And so full of sexual-tension. Dez is one sexy gargoyle...which is a sentence I never thought I'd write. But the relationship between Dez and Jasmine is wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Also, I'd like to point out that Jasmine is perfectly justified in her refusal to immediately cave in to Dez. I know that the temptation to scream at her, "Just say 'yes,' already!" is at an all time high—trust me, I know—but once I took a step back from it, I realized that I couldn't actually fault her. If I were in her position, I'd be just as reluctant (or possibly more) as her. But that's neither here nor there, I just wanted to give you something to think about as you go through the ten bajillion stages of frustration.

But, in short, this is a good warm-up to White Hot Kiss. I'd definitely encourage people who want, or already have read WHK to try this one out!

About the Author

# 1 New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Jennifer Armentrout lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. she spends her time reading, working out, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, and hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell Loki.

Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class, where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is published with Spencer Hill Press, Entangled Teen and Brazen, Disney/Hyperion and Harlequin Teen. Her book Obsidian has been optioned for a major motion picture and her Covenant Series has been optioned for TV.

She also writes adult and New Adult romance under the name J. Lynn. She is published by Entangled Brazen and HarperCollins.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blog Tour + Review + Giveaway: Hard to Come By by Laura Kaye

Hard to Come By (Hard Ink #3) by Laura Kaye

Release Date: November 25, 2014
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Avon Impulse (HarperCollins)
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: ARC for Tour
Goodreads • Amazon • Amazon CA • Amazon UK
B&NiTunes • Kobo

Caught between desire and loyalty…

Derek DiMarzio would do anything for the members of his disgraced Special Forces team—sacrifice his body, help a former teammate with a covert operation to restore their honor, and even go behind enemy lines. He just never expected to want the beautiful woman he found there.

When a sexy stranger asks questions about her brother, Emilie Garza is torn between loyalty to the brother she once idolized and fear of the war-changed man he's become. Derek’s easy smile and quiet strength tempt Emilie to open up, igniting the desire between them and leading Derek to crave a woman he shouldn’t trust.

As the team’s investigation reveals how powerful their enemies are, Derek and Emilie must prove where their loyalties lie before hearts are broken and lives are lost. Because love is too hard to come by to let slip away…

Laura Kaye's Hard Ink series had been on my mental to-read list since before the first book actually released. Before I even started blogging, I read Kaye's Hearts in Darkness and Hero series and I couldn't help but fall in love with her ability to craft rich, absorbing characters, stories, and romance. So, when I came across Hard Ink, it seemed like a no-brainer—not only was it by an author that I already knew could hook me, but it also catered to my from-afar obsession with tattoos and bad-ass types (Jay Crownover's Marked Men, anyone?). But as any halfway-true bookworm knows, there is never enough time to read all of the book's I want to. Seriously—I could probably read all day, everyday until I die and still have a bloated to-read line up. This series just ended up a casualty of that fact, and I never made it around to actually reading it. which meant that when the opportunity to review Hard to Come By came about, I had to jump!

Derek and Emilie's story is the stuff romance fans dream of. He's a wounded ex-soldier, working with his former teammates to try and clear their names. She's a family-oriented psychologist struggling with her desire to help her troubled brother. The premise itself may not sound ground-breaking, but the way these characters come together—along with the cast of excellent secondaries—that's really something special. Derek Marz and his crew are a ragtag bunch of lovable badasses, and the ways in which they interact with each other pull you in from the start. This is the jokester's book with Marz at the helm, and it makes it all the more entertaining. But when he gets serious, your heart can't help but melt a little. Emili provides aspects of the every-woman with enough specificity to make her multi-dimensional.

Perhaps the most incredible aspect of the book is the intriguing, mystery-like back story. It started with the first book, so I had to play some catch up, but there was enough recap to get me up to speed. From there my curiosity was peeked and, without giving anything away, I definitely plan on continuing the series to find out what roles exactly the different players have. And, although I started from the third book, I definitely plan on making my way back to the beginning to fill in the gaps.

My one real disclaimer is that this is not a series to enter without just a little bit of suspension of disbelief. The spy vibe already sets you up for it, but there were parts of HTCB that needed an extra dose. For instance, rocket launchers—they're awesome. Buffy even used one once, and Buffy is basically gospel. I'm willing to accept them—and even enjoy their inclusion for sheer blow-'em-up entertainment potential—but I'm certainly not buying that using one in Baltimore's industrial district would go unacknowledged by neighbors and authorities. Did it make for a thrilling read? Sure. Did I roll my eyes a little at the casual use of rocket launcher? You betcha.

There were a couple of other aspects that were treated a little too blasé within the narrative. The inclusion of a motorcycle gang that really only seemed to provide extra muscle when needed. The depth of the conspiracy was also portrayed—at least to me—in an overly casual manner. The timeline of the romance is also incredibly condensed and had an instalove feel at times. But none of these details took away from the overall story and my ability to enjoy it. Which I most definitely did! In fact, I wonder if some of these details would have been less glaring if I'd read the rest of the series previously. While HTCB can definitely be read as a standalone, there were a lot of details I felt I would've benefited from having from the earlier books. If you're like me and haven't started the series but want to, I'd definitely encourage starting from the first book, Hard as It Gets.

If you're looking for a fun, quick-but-packed read that's got action, intrigue, and a healthy dose of romance, Hard Ink just may be the series for you. Hard to Come By is the kind of book that transcends the stigma of the genre—while it's a romance at its core, the rich, involved story can more than carry its own, and so can the characters behind it. With the holidays coming up (and hopefully some break time with them), it's a great time to get in on the ground floor of this series as it really starts to ramp up!

And don't miss the other books in the Hard Ink series:

Praise for Hard to Come By

"Rough sex and explosive fights power Kaye's third Hard Ink novel, a thrilling adventure that feels more like an action movie with a romantic subplot than a typical contemporary romance. New readers will head straight for Kaye's backlist after powering through this installment."
          ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"TOP PICK! If you're looking for danger, gritty action, and sizzling passion, then Kaye has just the book and the series for you."
          ~RT Book Reviews Magazine

Excerpt from Hard to Come By

Boxing Emilie’s body in tight against the railing, Marz leaned his forehead against hers and stared into her eyes. “Does this feel good?” he asked as he continued to tease and stroke her body.

Her breath caught and she gave a fast nod. “Oh, yeah. So good.”

He flicked his tongue over her lips, loving the way she attempted to capture it. “I bet you’re really fucking hot here,” he said, cupping between her legs to make sure she knew exactly what he was saying.

“Yeah,” she said in a breathy little gasp that made him thrust against her palm.

“Bet I could make you feel even better,” he said, sucking her bottom lips between his and giving it a little nip.

“Please,” she said, one hand fisting around the side of his shirt.

The word speared through him, spiking his pulse and turning his cock to steel. “Right here, Em? Right now?” The very idea turned his blood molten and silenced every bit of argument against taking this even one step further.

Her body trembled everywhere they touched. She stared at him a long moment, and then she nodded. “Here,” she breathed.

Marz had enough presence of mind to do another visual sweep of the end of the pier, and, finding it empty, he tugged the button free at the top of her jeans.

Her eyes widened, like she was surprised, or excited.

Watching her carefully for any sign of reluctance, he drew down the zipper slowly. One metal tooth at a time.

“Shit,” she said. “Hurry. I need it. Need you.”

Her urgency had every part of him achy with desire.

“Yeah?” he asked as he skimmed his palm down the curve of her belly and into her panties. His fingertips encountered a soft patch of hair and then hot, slick feminine flesh. “Oh, you do need it, don’t you? You’re so wet for me.” He circled his fingers over the top of her sex and devoured the string of little whimpers and moans and pleading words that spilled from her lips.

He could’ve lived on them.

She reached for his zipper, but Marz gently blocked her. “This is all for you, baby. I want to have all my wits about me when I watch you come.”

“Derek, faster,” she said, her hand reaching up to hold the railing above her. “Please.”

“Anything you need, Em.” Their lips so close they breathed each other’s air, Marz swirled his fingers right where he knew she needed them.

Moments later, every one of her muscles went taut.

“Derek, I’m . . . oh . . .” The word died in her throat as she held her breath through the orgasm.

“Aw, yes,” he said. When her knees went weak, he wrapped an arm around her lower back to support her and slowly gentled his fingers.

She heaved a long, contented sigh. “Oh, my God. I’m lightheaded,” she said with a chuckle.

Marz grinned and withdrew his hand. “Yeah? I’m glad,” he said. And then he cupped her face and held her so she could watch as he sucked each of his three wet fingertips into his mouth. “Next time, you’ll come on my tongue,” he said. Somewhere, way far in the back of his mind, a very small part of him questioned the idea of a “next time.”

“Oh, yeah?” she said, pushing off the railing and wrapping her arms around his neck. He arched an eyebrow and nodded, loving that she wasn’t too shy to talk about this stuff. “Next time, you’ll come on my tongue, too.”

Which pretty much made “next time” a sure thing.


About the Author

Laura is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over twenty books in contemporary and paranormal romance and romantic suspense. Growing up, Laura’s large extended family believed in the supernatural, and family lore involving angels, ghosts, and evil-eye curses cemented in Laura a life-long fascination with storytelling and all things paranormal. She lives in Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and cute-but-bad dog, and appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.

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